The locker room was just a big, empty space with hooks on the wall, and the hardwood floor had its share of dead spots, but for Mike Howse, playing basketball at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium was an experience of a lifetime.
The 1979 Williamsville East graduate was among thousands whose high school careers came to a climax at the Aud, site of Section VI and Manhattan Cup finals for decades.
Today, the Aud is in the process of taking a charge, coming down as part of the $325 million Erie Canal Harbor redevelopment plan. The demolition is expected to be completed by June.
For athletes like Howse, his memories can't be cleared away by a crane.
Howse played in one of the most memorable games at the Aud, a 78-72 double overtime thriller over Kenmore West on March 3, 1979. The game reportedly had "more plot twists than an episode of 'Search for Tomorrow,' " according to The Buffalo Evening News.
Howse made four free throws in the final 10 seconds of the second OT to win it.
"The last basket was a half-court hook shot by Jimmy Wurtz," said Howse, Western New York Player of the Year in 1979. "Coach [Jim Johnson] used to let us get out of sprints [at the end of practice] if we could make a half-court shot. Jimmy stole the inbounds pass and took a half-court hook shot, and sure enough, it goes in.
That's why we won by six."
Howse would return to the Aud floor several more times as a college player after signing with Niagara. Today, he lives with his wife and two children in Rochester, where he has worked for General Motors the past 25 years.
>Days gone by
Dick Harvey didn't mind when his father left for work because some days he'd return home with basketball tickets.
"My father was a mail carrier in Dunkirk and some guy on his route would give him tickets," said Harvey.
It was as a 14-year-old that Harvey got his introduction to the Aud. He and his friends would hop a bus downtown to the Aud for the college basketball Little Three doubleheaders.
The Saturday night tradition involving Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure played out between 1940 and '96.
Like most of the young teens who filled the Aud's orange, blue, red and gold seats, Harvey dreamed of playing on the same floor as his college heroes. His wish was granted and more.
As a high school player for Dunkirk, he played twice in the Aud, in 1958 and '59. He later wore UB's colors, playing games there from 1960 to '64. Teams he coached at Kenmore West reached the final four times, with a title coming in 1967.
>Home to high schools
The Aud will always be remembered as the home of the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Braves. But high school basketball also has a long history there.
Section VI played its finals there from 1948 to '70, again in 1973, then 1979 and 1983 to '87. Basketball junkies waited all year for the day of the Section VI finals. The marathon featured all five games played on the same day starting at 9 a.m.
The Monsignor Martin Association's Manhattan Cup played its final, semifinals and some quarterfinals in the Aud between 1948 and '86. In the mid-1970s the league would schedule a regular-season game before a Little Three game.
Tony Masiello of Dougherty and Paul Fitzpatrick of Timon, both members of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, guarded each other in a semifinal game in 1965. Masiello became a star for Canisius College and a three-term mayor of Buffalo while Fitzpatrick flourished as a giant in area coaching circles.
Dougherty beat Timon in the semifinal game, 58-50, as Masiello poured in 27 points.
"He traveled all the time," Fitzpatrick said of Masiello. "He had this move where both feet had to be moving before the ball hit the floor. He got away with murder."
The Section VI and Manhattan Cup finals, which left the Aud in 1987, have since bounced among UB, the Niagara Falls Convention Center, Buffalo State, Fredonia State and Canisius College.
This year's Manhattan Cup finals are tonight at Canisius College. The Section VI finals are Saturday at Buffalo State.
South Park coach Romeo McKinney was ejected from the 1985 final against Lancaster and watched the rest of the game from the Zamboni entrance, where he sent instructions to the bench through a messenger.
Panama coach Ron Schrecengost reportedly received "a shower bath" from his players after a 63-52 win over Sherman in 1966.
With Mike Haskell coaching his little brother Jeff, 15 years younger, Pioneer rolled to a 65-44 win over Dunkirk to win the Class B-2 title in 1984.
Future Niagara Falls coach Dan Bazzani had 15 points for the Cataracts in a 61-55 win over Amherst in 1960 that snapped the Tigers' 20-game win streak.
Olean was reported by News sportswriter Maury May to have beaten Amherst, 45-42, in 1952 by "clogging up the middle with a St. Bonaventure-style collapsing defense."
Future NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski sank two free throws late in the game to help Lackawanna beat LaSalle, 61-55, to win the 1968 crown.
Six-foot-7 sophomore Larry Erick's 38 points helped Forestville end Maple Grove's 40-game winning streak, 85-72, in 1970.
Bennett's Curtis Aiken surpassed 2,000 career points in an 88-86 overtime win over Class B-1 Riverside in 1983.
Trott won its sixth title in seven years playing in "the big hall" in 1967.
Coach Joe Niland's "Foxy Five" of Ryan loses to St. Joe's in the 1959 final, 47-39.
>Laettner in brawl game
Thirty years worth of championship games ended on a sour note when Nichols and South Park met in the Section VI Class A final in 1987. Nichols was routing South Park with 3:08 left in a game that had been chippy throughout. An altercation erupted when a South Park player reportedly threw a punch at Nichols center Christian Laettner.
"I got the rebound, we bumped and he went flying," said Laettner, who finished with 21 points. "He hit me, I ducked, and he hit me again."
In a matter of seconds, both benches emptied.
The melee pretty much involved just the 25 players on both teams as the Plexiglas panels used for hockey games were in place, preventing fans from reaching the floor level.
After a 15-minute delay the officials declared the game was over, giving Nichols a 68-49 win.
The next season the finals were moved to the University at Buffalo.
It was a short-lived stay for Nichols as full members of Section VI. In May 1985 the private school was given full league status. In November 1987 a state appeals court ruled Nichols ineligible to participate in postseason competition in Section VI.
Five months later Laettner was at Duke and the rest is history.
THE AUD: By the numbers
156 Total games played.
109 Most points scored in a game: Delevan-Machias, 1968.
11 Most titles: Trott Vocational (Niagara Falls).
Buffalo Memorial Auditorium Section VI history:(1948-87)
Number of games played: 156
Number of years: 30 non-consecutive
Largest reported crowd: 9,000 in 1965 (5 games)
Most points: 109 by Delevan-Machias, 1968
Most titles: 11, Trott Vocational (Niagara Falls)
Four-peat: Trott: 1961-64
Double overtime games:
1979: Class AAA: Williamsville East 78, Kenmore West 72
1983: Class A1: Sweet Home 74, Kenmore West 70
1954: Class B: Sloan 52, Silver Creek 51
1959: Class B: Bemus Point 61, Barker 59
1969: Class C: Franklinville 59, Panama 54
1979: Class D: Chautauqua 68, Ripley 66
1983: Class B1: Bennett 88, Riverside 86
Silver Creek 1960-62
South Park: 1983-85
44 Ronnie DuBose, Emerson, 1983
42 Erik Berg, Amherst, 1983
38 Larry Erick, Forestville, 1970
34 Al Hughes, Hutch-Tech, 1973
33 Mike Russell, East, 1973
32 Gary Bossert, Sweet Home, 1983
32 Gary Darling, Frewsburg, 1960
32 Brent Deuink, Clymer, 1973
32 Ernie Lockett, Dunkirk 1986
30 Pete Chudy, Amherst, 1957
30 Nate Gainey, Traditional, 1987
30 Hal Abercrombie, Williamsville, 1957
30 Richie Mangano, Silver Creek, 1961
30 Ron Nowak, Pine Hill, 1956
30 Craig Skurcenski, Pine Valley, 1986
30 Steve Waxman, Kenmore West, 1967
Years: 38 consecutive
Most points: 73 by St. Joe's, 1955
Three-peat: Timon 1970-72
Champions (11 different teams)
St. Joe's 11, Timon 8, Canisius 6, St. Francis 4,
Neumann 2, Ryan 2, Dougherty 1, Duffy 1,
Fallon 1, Notre Dame 1, Walsh 1